Perhaps the most family friendly Christmas time movie in years has just popped into the theaters. I’m referring to Mary Poppins Returns with its All Star cast, including great cameo appearances by Dick Van Dyke, Angela Landsbury, and Meryl Streep, only the first of which was in the original film in 1964. But the stars of this Mary Poppins: The Next Generation (of Banks children) are Emily Blunt in the title role (and who knew she could sing that well) Lin-Manuel Miranda (of Hamilton fame, playing Jack the lamplighter, which Van Dyke did in 1964), Colin Firth as the big bad banker trying to snatch the Banks home for the sake of the bank, where, oddly Michael Banks works, and finally Emily Mortimer as Michael’s sister, Jane.
This film is a musical, and filmed musicals sometimes fall flat, especially as adaptations from the stage, but this one actually is quite charming, full of good tunes (though perhaps not quite as memorable as the original ones like “A Spoon Full of Sugar, ‘Supercalifragilious’ etc.) good singing, and good spirit, with a good message to boot. For 130 minutes we alternate between dialogue, singing, a bit of animation, and some dancing, and of course one must suspend one’s disbelief, but all in good fun.The lyric however come flying at you too quickly, like in Hamilton itself, and so one is not prompted to be singing this or that tune as one leaves the theater. Still, I liked the line ‘if logic is your strong foundation, there’s little room left for imagination’ and the song about not judging books by their cover. This film is all about imagination and how the bringing to life of what you imagine can actually change reality (see the earlier review of the biography of Da Vinci on this blog). It is also about not losing one’s childlike ability to wonder and imagine what might be. Especially effective are the scenes with Mary Poppins and the children in the bath and Meryl Streep as a Fixer of broken things. It is good that they decided to do a sequel rather than a remake, as it’s much more interesting and effective. Remakes of classic films seldom turn out to excel the original. I would rank this cinema musical up there with Chicago in terms of how well it is done. The film does have scenes where you can glimpse the vaunted Disney Magic.
I have two small caveats: 1) Lin Miranda’s cockney accent is not spot on, but just passable; 2) the film is probably too long for the rather short attention of many young children, but you are not going to find a more family friendly unobjectionable film than this, this season.